Types of Military Service

Types of Military Service

The following is a list of types of Military Service to help you better understand the difference between them:

Full-Time Military Service

Active-duty service is full-time military service. This is generally what most people think of when someone indicates that they were in the military. Active-duty service members are subject to duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, except when on leave (vacation) or pass (authorized time off). Active-duty service members serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, all branches of the military falling under the direction of the U.S. Department of Defense.

When it comes to qualifying for veteran’s benefits, Active-duty service counts toward length-of-service requirements.

Weekend Military Service

Members of the Reserves and National Guard typically perform duty one weekend per month, plus two weeks of training per year. The average National Guard or Reserve enlistment contract is six years. A Reserve or Guard member may expect to spend two years of their enlistment period performing full-time active duty.


Each of the military services has a Reserve branch. There’s an Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve. Like the active-duty forces, the Reserves fall under the auspices of the Department of Defense, meaning that they are federal agencies. The primary purpose of the Reserves is to provide additional support and manpower to the active-duty forces in times of need.

When a person joins the Reserves, they first attend basic training and military job school full time. This is called active duty for training, or ADT, and doesn’t count as active-duty time for most veteran’s benefits.

Upon completion of basic training and military job school, reservists return to their home, resume their civilian lives and jobs, but train (drill) with their unit one weekend per month. Once per year, they receive 14 days of full-time training. The weekend drills are called inactive duty training (IDT), and the annual training falls into the category of ADT. Neither IDT nor ADT counts toward service requirements for veteran’s benefits.

The President and Secretary of Defense have the authority to recall reservists to active duty at any time to support military missions. In fact, at any given time, about 65,000 reservists are performing active duty in support of military contingency operations. Active duty of this type does count toward veterans benefit service requirements.

National Guard

There are only two National Guard services: the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard do not currently have National Guard branches.

The main difference between the National Guard and the Reserves is that the Reserves belong to the federal government, while the National Guard units belong (primarily) to individual states.

Like reservists, National Guard members attend basic training and military job school full time under ADT (active duty for training). They then return to their homes, where they drill with their units one weekend per month (inactive duty training [IDT]), plus 15 full-time training days per year. As with Reserve duty, this ADT/IDT time does not count toward veterans benefit service requirements.

The governors of individual states have the authority to call National Guard members to active duty in response to state emergencies, such as disaster relief or protection of property and people. Usually this happens when such events are beyond the scope of local law enforcement agencies. This is officially known as a “Title 38 Call-Up,” and is commonly referred to as state duty. State duty does not count toward veterans benefit service requirements.

The President or Secretary of Defense may also call National Guard members to active duty in support of military contingency operations. This is called “Title 10 Call-Up,” or federal duty. This type of duty does count toward service requirements for veteran’s benefits. During any given month, about 40,000 members of the Air and Army National Guard are performing federal duty.

Active Guard/Reserves

Some members of the Reserves and National Guard perform full-time active duty, just like active-duty members. This program is called the Active Guard/Reserves, or AGR. AGR members provide day-to-day operational support needed to ensure that National Guard and Reserve units are ready to mobilize when needed. For veterans benefit service requirements, AGR duty is the same as full-time active-duty service, which means that AGR service counts toward length-of-service requirements.

Individual Ready Reserve

When a person signs an enlistment contract, they obligate themselves to the military for a total of eight years. Whatever time isn’t spent on active duty or in the Guard/Reserves must be spent in the inactive reserves, officially known as the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR). Time in the IRR does not count toward veteran’s benefit service requirements, but if you’re recalled to active duty, that time does count. An average of about 15,000 IRR members have been recalled to active duty each and every year since 2004, the vast majority by the Army and Marine Corps.

  • Paul
    Posted at 19:30h, 13 July Reply

    I’m in the Air Force Reserve and I did my ADT to get my 5 skill level for 125 days and I thought it would count toward my VA but I got denied when I applied for COE to buy a house.

  • Chris
    Posted at 03:48h, 17 February Reply

    Sounds like to me whoever wrote these laws, discriminated against Guard/Reserves. You are still subject to the UCMJ in and out of Uniform and NOT just on weekends or the 14 day annual training and have to be deployable AT ALL TIMES (qualify on the range, satisfactory PT/PFT scores etc). SO that means you have to Physically Train in order to pass your fitness test. Either they don’t really care about Guard/Reserves or they are not understanding what all needs to be done.

  • RW
    Posted at 23:45h, 02 December Reply

    If all you did was serve in the Guard, your initial period of Basic and AIT, can qualify you for Veterans Benefits since this was on federal time.

  • RW
    Posted at 20:45h, 11 November Reply

    Where are people getting this information about Initial Active Duty for Training counting for a VA loan? I’ve heard people say that it does if it’s more than 181 days continuous. The VA loan website plainly says Active Duty for Training does NOT count for a VA loan, unless there is a service connected disability. and most other benefits. Am I missing something?

    Posted at 00:57h, 28 January Reply

    I was in the NG and was told it was considered being a vet with benefits after I completed my full service 5 year because it was EQUAL to being ACTIVE DUTY. 3 YEARS .. I was ACTIVE through Basic training ..8 WEEKS and it was TOTALLY GREAT..I liked it .. PLUS then 9 MONTHS ACTIVE OJT.. and ON CALL ,, I think that some support for being there if and when .. like ON CALL .so to speak.. and was willing … and actually older now BUT STILL WOULD!!!

  • Barbara
    Posted at 20:21h, 27 November Reply

    When did the Army Reserve’s monthly weekend drills(IDT) & yearly two week drills/14 days active duty(ADT) change to not counting toward time in service? I was active duty Army for 10 yrs (1974-1984-ETS1984) then joined Army Reserve in 1990 (1990-1996). At that time, the monthly weekend drills & yearly 2 week/14day training counted toward retirement points/ veteran benifits.

  • Patrick Rosel
    Posted at 21:48h, 22 November Reply


  • John
    Posted at 22:46h, 10 November Reply

    I served six years in the Army National Guard for which I get no recognition.
    I nerves recommend the Guard or Reserves for these reasons.
    I’m not a veteran I’m nothing.
    Go active are don’t serve.

  • Kelly
    Posted at 03:36h, 26 July Reply

    I received a “Involuntary Re-Enlistment” official recall letter in 2004 although technically my active duty enlistment was from 1982-1992 and my IRR ended in 1998. I did as a good Marine does and went to Quantico, VA as directed and communicated with the POC Captain in Kansas City. However, a few weeks back and forth, it was communicated with me that I need not continue with the ‘processing’ to Virginia…(I confess that I would have been DEFINETLY part of the Pork Chop Platoon).
    1) Could my Reserve time been bridged to become active served time?
    2) Is it to late to bring this up to the USMC now that I am trying (and will probably get) VA Benefits?
    3) Even though the whole event lasted about 3-4 weeks (no pay lol) during 2004, could I have been promoted to SSGT? (I became eligible the very month I was Honorably Discharged in 1992)

  • Sean Kiaer
    Posted at 17:19h, 21 July Reply

    There is another Military Unit that is not mentioned that belong to individual states that operates under Title 32 of the USC

    The State Defense Forces
    State defense forces (SDF; also known as state military, state guards, state militias, or state military reserves) in the United States are military units that operate under the sole authority of a state government. State defense forces are authorized by state and federal law and are under the command of the governor of each state.

    State defense forces are distinct from their state’s National Guard in that they cannot become federal entities. All state National Guard personnel (to include the National Guard of the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands) can be federalized under the National Defense Act Amendments of 1933 with the creation of the National Guard of the United States. This provides the basis for integrating units and personnel of the Army National Guard into the U.S. Army and, since 1947, units and personnel of the Air National Guard into the U.S. Air Force.

    The federal government recognizes state defense forces, as per the Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution, under 32 U.S.C. § 109 which provides that state defense forces as a whole may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces of the United States, thus preserving their separation from the National Guard. However, under the same law, individual members serving in the state defense force are not exempt from service in the armed forces (i.e., they are not excluded from the draft). Under 32 USC § 109(e), “A person may not become a member of a defense force … if he is a member of a reserve component of the armed forces.”

    Nearly every state has laws authorizing state defense forces, and twenty-two states, plus the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, have active forces with different levels of activity, support, and strength. State defense forces generally operate with emergency management and homeland security missions. Most SDFs are organized as army units, but air and naval units also exist.[2][3]

  • Logan
    Posted at 16:31h, 06 June Reply

    Does anyone know what reg(s) contains this information? I would like to see the actual governing documents that breaks this down.

    • Ellie
      Posted at 01:00h, 19 June Reply

      I am in the reserve and everything that is said here is true. It’s a .org website

  • Camille Devaux
    Posted at 21:48h, 16 May Reply

    Knowing that there are different parts of the military to be a part of is a big deal. This might make it easier for a friend of mine to choose if she would like to join. It might be in her interest to know that the reserves belong to the federal government.

  • Andre Johnson
    Posted at 13:38h, 13 May Reply

    Prettyboy..this needs to be changed the government needs to change the status of eligibility for national guards!!

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    Posted at 10:25h, 30 April Reply

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  • Rebeccah
    Posted at 06:45h, 12 April Reply

    National Guard IDT and ADT do count for eligibility for a VA loan.

    • Jesse
      Posted at 15:03h, 07 May Reply

      Do you know this for sure?

  • Kenny R Evans
    Posted at 19:41h, 27 January Reply

    Nobody force me to join army reserve. I did own my own. I received honorable discharge. I was trained to be a soldier in the time of war. For more than 120 days. That’s bullshit!

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